Looking forward to a dose of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?

Looking forward to a dose of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?


So how does that poem go?

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun’ (Keats)

I learned this poem for ‘o’ level English and whilst it is undoubtedly a beautiful evocation of Autumn the reality of the changing seasons for some people brings a sense of dread rather than joy.

Now is the season when the days become shorter, the nights draw in and for some people this is the beginning of their lowering of mood. The summer with all its light, a sense of energy and high levels of Vitamin D is literally fading away. Soon you find yourself in darker mornings and evenings, dragging yourself to and from work, school run etc. Just finding the motivation seems a chore. OK so there is the prospect of the Christmas period (depending on your attitude of course) with all its busyness to keep us entertained, but then this is followed by those 3 months! Sounding familiar so far?

So what is SAD? It could be said that most of us get a case of the ‘Winter Blues’ this is the urge to perhaps sleep more, be a bit more lethargic and eat more during the onset of winter however Seasonal Affective Disorder is a bit more than this. SAD is basically a form of depression (not wanting to participate in life around you and being inward looking with low energy levels) felt during the changing seasons, mainly from September until mid-March and can be triggered at any age and by such things as a trauma, illness or life changes in this period. It is thought that in Northern Europe at least 1 in 10 people suffer from the symptoms, so if you believe you experience SAD a house move to Finland may not be the greatest idea!

So let’s look at the symptoms. There is a list including: lacking energy and poor concentration levels, changes in sleep patterns, swings in mood, wanting to eat more, lacking enthusiasm for life around you and not wanting to take part, increases in anxiety levels, becoming more susceptible to illness, difficulties with relationships, taking up self-harming behaviours e.g. drugs and alcohol, losing interest in physical relations.

But what about the causes? Light is clearly a significant factor, some people actually need more than others or a least their eyes do. When light hits the back of the retina in the eye messages are sent to the Hypothalamus (which is the part of the brain that determines such things as sleep, your appetite, need for sex, body temperature and mood) if there is not enough light being registered for your needs then these functions slow down. In addition common to people with depression are low Serotonin levels (the feel good hormone); it is thought that the system for regulating Serotonin levels does not work so efficiently in people with SAD. Then there is the issue that depression can be triggered by illness, current or previous trauma (such as bereavement). It can be in the case of previous trauma that the body unconsciously remembers the trauma. In my own case March is always a difficult month being linked to my first bout of depression some 25 years ago. Let’s add to this the disrupted body clock (circadian rhythm). In simple terms your brain set your body clock by the hours of daylight, therefore it could be said that in people with SAD this malfunctions and so your body slows down. Finally is the question of do humans hibernate? There is the field of thought that we do to some extent. The Pineal gland produces the hormone Melatonin which makes us sleep during the hours of darkness and switches off in periods of light. Maybe people with SAD just want to hibernate?

So what can we do to overcome SAD?

  • We all hopefully do go outdoors at some time during the day, so try to make this a habit perhaps during your lunch time. Midday is the ideal time to exposure yourself to natural light, even if the sun is hard to find, 20 mins is great.

  • In winter try to avoid becoming stressed (yes I know some chance with Christmas etc.) so try planning throughout the winter months joyful, look forward to treats, that don’t perhaps involve large quantities of food and alcohol. If you enjoy music for instance plan a program of concerts/gigs or outdoor walks, taking up Yoga or an evening class, catching up with friends. It’s all there on the Net, no reason not to plan ahead and most of us have diaries?

  • Ah yes exercise, I am the first to admit I would rather read a good book in the cold winter months but really to boost those Serotonin levels indoor or outdoor sports is just great. Rigorous housework or gardening is also brilliant.

  • Light Boxes are also recommended with strength of 2,500 lux. You can check this with your GP who may be able to advise on the right direction but you might also want to check the following websites: www.lumie.com, www.sada.org.uk, www.sad.org.uk

  • There is of course counselling; CBT is effective for mild depression and you may be offered antidepressant drugs for more severe symptoms (SSRI’s) by your GP.


  • Finally ‘Bright Light Therapy’ with a health care professional. This is not offered by the NHS but is referred to by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)


If you have found this article interesting or any of my other articles on this website it would be great to hear from you. Comments welcome. Just find me at michellekrethlow@gmail .com or www.michellekrethlow.co.uk contacts page.

Michelle Krethlow Shaw
Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist.

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